Eugene O'Neill

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A Moon for the Misbegotten at ACT in Seattle

Reviewed by Stephen A. Black


With Jeanne Paulsen as Josie, John Procaccino as Jim, Seán G. Griffin as Hogan, Galen Joseph Osier as Harder, and David Gehrman as Mike. The director is Kurt Beattie, sets are by Shelley Henze Schermer, costumes by Deb Trout, lighting by Geoff Korf, and sound by Dominic Cody Kramers, September 11-28, 2003.

The following are hastily written thoughts about an exceptional performance of, perhaps, O’Neill’s finest play. Anyone who can get to Seattle in the next two weeks is urged to attend.

There is a moment in Act 3 when everything in the play changes, and everything between Jim Tyrone and Josie Hogan changes. To this point the play has been broad and delightful comedy with only the merest hint of depths underlying the jokes, the wit and the overall good humor. In Act 3, Josie – and the audience – can begin to know Jim and his story. The joking, kidding and scheming gradually stop, and nothing is left but the growing knowledge in Josie that she has not known Jim at all, that he is completely different from what she has allowed herself to believe, that she too is different from the way she has come to see herself and her bluff, and ends in Act 4 knowing who Jim is, and knowing better who she herself is. The change begins with Josie admitting to Jim what he and her father already knows, that she is a virgin, and develops as she increasing knows not only that she is loveable but, more importantly, that she has the capacity to love as well as to desire. She changes from rebellious daughter to woman and at the end of the play has clearly emerged as the central character in a play that is not only about Jim’s tragic story, but something else for which we do not have a clear name. The play belongs in that small group of works like Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonnus, Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, Winter’s Tale and Cymbelline which exist in the world of tragedy but which move into some unnamed land beyond, a land barely known.

The ACT performance is given with one intermission, between acts 2 and 3. The small parts of brother Mike and the millionaire Harder are played competently, as is father Hogan (although I once felt he lacked the empathic knowledge of his daughter that O’Neill’s character should have.) But the play belongs to Josie and Jim Tyrone, and I have never seen the parts played better, nor with actors who fit so well together. John Procaccino is quieter and less flamboyant than Jason Robards in the part, but he reaches just as deeply into Jim’s misery and he knows Josie as well as she can be known. While the play is going on, it seems that quiet thoughtfulness is the best way to play the part of Jim. Jeanne Paulsen is his equal, equally good in the comic scenes with her father, and in presenting Josie’s gradually growing knowledge of who Jim is, why he cannot love, why and how he is dead before his time has come. The two actors are wonderfully attuned to each other. Mr. Procaccino seems to go as deeply into Jim as any actor I have seen, and Josie understands what Jim finds in himself. At the end, as should be, Josie emerges as one for who we can feel hope, even as we grieve for Jim’s hopelessness. And so the play leaves us a bit breathless, but not hopeless; we know the lives of these characters are worth living and they show us something about our own lives that is valuable knowledge. This is a performance not to be missed.

© Copyright 2003 Stephen A. Black.  Stephen Black is Professor Emeritus at Simon Fraser University, British Columbia and author of Eugene O’Neill: Beyond Mourning and Tragedy.


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